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Articles by Dale Chappell

Bad Behavior: Key to Getting Promoted for Alabama Prison Officials

The fatal beating of Billy Smith while a prisoner at the Elmore Correctional Facility in November 2017 sheds some light on ADOC’s condoning violence and abuse in Alabama’s prisons. Smith, 35, was hogtied and beaten allegedly by three guards, including Jeremy Singleton, while supervisory staff ignored Smith as he screamed for help. Hours later, he was unresponsive with snoring respirations — a sign of a major head injury. He died in December 2017 from a fractured skull, autopsy results showed.

Singleton was promoted to sergeant. He resigned in August 2019 after a grand jury returned a manslaughter indictment against him and Smith’s fellow prisoner, Bryan Blount. In the 21 months that lapsed after Smith’s death, ADOC conducted an internal investigation and delivered its findings to the Elmore County District Attorney’s office, which presented a case to the grand jury that indicted Singleton and Blount. ...

COVID-19 Causes Public Defenders to Change How They Handle Cases

With courthouses in Worcester County, Springfield, and Holyoke closing multiple times after staff there tested positive for the virus, Malone and McArdle have had to work from their dining room table in their apartment overlooking Forest Park. Instead of working from their offices, they consult by phone with clients, who are often stuck in jail waiting for a hearing to be released. And that call isn’t always private.

While the Public Defender Division has tried to convince the jails to allow Zoom meetings, even offering to give them the equipment for free, they’ve largely refused. “In fact for one sheriff’s office, we have a computer we’re ready to loan to them that’s set up with an operating system and a browser,” Randy Gioia, ...

Seventh Circuit: Totality of the Circumstances Must be Considered to Show “Policy or Custom” by Government Agency Caused Injury for Monell Claim

Kenyatta Bridges was a pretrial detainee at the Cook County Jail in Illinois in 2014 when he fell off the top bunk and had to be hospitalized after suffering a head injury. The problem was that Bridges had a valid lower bunk pass and shouldn’t have been on the top bunk. He then filed a lawsuit in federal court against Cook County, claiming that the jail staff purposely ignored his lower bunk pass, which resulted in his injury.

However, Bridges could not sue jail staff per se for his injuries, but only the county as an entity, pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “a local government may not be sued under [28 U.S.C. § 1983] for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents. Instead, it is ...

$122,000 Payout as Utah Settles Suits Claiming Daggett County Jail Torture

On November 15, 2019, the Utah Department of Corrections (DOC) settled lawsuits with four former prisoners who were tortured at the hands of Daggett County Jail guards, agreeing to pay out a total of $122,000. The abuse, which led to the closure of the jail, occurred between May 2015 and February 2017 and further led to criminal charges against the sheriff and four of his underlings in what the Utah Attorney General called “unbelievably inhumane conduct.”

A key player in the abuses was former guard Joshua Cox, who the lawsuits said required prisoners to submit to being shocked and bitten by attack dogs in order to keep their jobs working outside the prison fences. Sometimes Cox abused them if they simply wanted to return to their cells, or even no reason at all. Cox would taunt the prisoners, calling them “bitches” and “pussies,” wrestle with them and choke them out.

Cox was convicted of aggravated assault and spent just four months in county jail. He also lost his peace officer’s certification for life. Jorgensen, the former sheriff who condoned this abuse, was charged in 2017 with failing to keep the prisoners safe.

While prisoners did complain, they ...

L.A. County Sheriff Says Prisoners Intentionally Tried to Catch Coronavirus to Get Released

by Dale Chappell

After seeing surveillance video of a group of prisoners drinking hot water from the same cup – allegedly attempting to raise their body temperature before it was checked by a nurse – and then sharing sniffs of a face mask, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a press conference on May 11, 2020, that prisoners were “deliberately [trying] to expose themselves to COVID-19.”

It’s a story that sounds like it should come plastered with a “Don’t try this at your jail” warning: In that housing unit at North County Correctional Facility in Castaic, 21 prisoners subsequently tested positive for coronavirus – almost 40 percent of the unit’s population. From the end of April 2020, the county jail saw its number of coronavirus cases triple to 357.

“So, in this environment, and then considering the fact that the 21 tested positive out of that module, shows what their intention was,” Sheriff Villanueva said.

While it’s clearly a bad idea to infect yourself with the coronavirus to try to get released from jail, the sheriff made it just as clear that he wasn’t releasing anyone because of a positive coronavirus test.

“Somehow there was some mistaken belief ...

ACLU Files Lawsuit Against CoreCivic Prison in Arizona over COVID-19 Failures

by Dale Chappell

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a federal lawsuit against a private prison run by CoreCivic in Florence, Arizona, claiming that staff has failed to protect its prisoners and the community from the coronavirus, according to a story in The Appeal and court records.

According to papers filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on May 9, 2020, CoreCivic has made it impossible for prisoners to adhere to state-mandated “social distancing” because of overcrowding, failed to properly quarantine prisoners suspected of having the coronavirus and new prisoners coming into the prison, failed to test prisoners who have shown symptoms for coronavirus, lied to prisoners about there being no COVID-19 cases in the prison, refused to give prisoners masks and made them share masks, and continues to use prison labor to run CoreCivic’s factory without any precautions.

The five prisoners who filed the lawsuit said they have numerous medical conditions putting them at high risk of death from COVID-19. Some also have cancer that CoreCivic has left untreated since their incarceration months ago, putting them at further risk of serious illness. Some of the prisoners are sitting in jail on minor charges, ...

Oklahoma Jail Sued for Mocking Prisoner as He Died

by Dale Chappell

Surveillance video released in January 2020 from the Ottawa County Jail in Miami, Oklahoma, provides graphic evidence of the neglect and abuse suffered by detainee Terral Ellis at the hands of jail staff in the days leading up to his death from septic shock and pneumonia in October 2015. The new video and audio evidence corroborated details provided to an attorney for Ellis’ family by at least 16 former prisoners who were in jail at the time he died and agreed to testify on his behalf.

“It’s a horrific, horrific death,” said Dan Smolen, an attorney specializing in jail death cases who is representing the Ellis family. “It’s jarring.”

Smolen filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Ellis family in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma in 2017 against the county, the sheriff’s office and the jail’s nurse contractor. See: Burke, et al v. Ottowa County, U.S.N.C. (N.D. Okla), Case No. 17-cv-00325-JED-FHM.

Using descriptions from Ellis’ fellow inmates written two days after his death, the suit lays out its gruesome details.

On October 10, 2015, the 26-year-old Ellis took his grandfather’s advice and turned himself in to the jail on an ...

Ninth Circuit Announces New Rule on Eighth Amendment Violation Due to Sexual Assault by Montana Prison Staffer

by Dale Chappell

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit announced a new rule on January 16, 2020 concerning what constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment when a prisoner alleges a sexual assault by prison staff.

The new rule was established after Dewayne Bearchild took his federal lawsuit to a jury trial, alleging that Montana State Prison Sergeant Larry Pasha sexually assaulted him during a pat-down search. He claimed that Pasha groped and touched his groin area, and made inappropriate comments about his body.

During the two-day trial before a six-member jury, the district court instructed the jury to use the Ninth Circuit Model Civil Jury Instruction dealing with excessive force claims. The court told the jury that Bearchild could establish an Eighth Amendment violation only if he could show: (1) that Pasha “used excessive and unnecessary force”; (2) that he “acted maliciously and sadistically for the purpose of causing harm”; and (3) Pasha’s actions “caused harm” to Bearchild.

Bearchild, who acted pro se throughout the entire trial, failed to object to the use of excessive force jury instruction to establish a sexual assault claim. Nevertheless, the Ninth Circuit ruled that ...

Former CoreCivic Nurse in Colorado Claims Sex Discrimination, Retaliation After Filing Complaint About Poor Medical Care

A former CoreCivic nurse who worked at the private, for-profit company’s Bent County Jail in Colorado filed a federal lawsuit March 18, 2020, claiming sex discrimination by her supervisors after she filed complaints about the lack of medical care to prisoners.

CoreCivic workers at the Bent County Jail go by pseudonyms to protect their identity. When it was revealed that Danette Karapetian, who went by “DJ,” was using her old stage name from when she was a Hawaiian Tropic bikini model 25 years ago, her supervisor harassed her about it, her lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado says. Within the next four months, nurse Supervisor Angie Turner reportedly set on a path to get Karapetian fired, and when that happened she sued.

Karapetian’s lawsuit raised three inter-related issues that she says were the bases for her termination: (1) “sex discrimination” by supervisors; (2) “retaliation for engaging [in] protected activity in opposition to sex discrimination”; and (3) “wrongful discharge in violation of public policy” after Karapetian filed complaints about poor medical care at the jail.

The first claim stemmed from Turner’s admission to coworkers that she was “angered and upset” about Karapetian’s ...

Recent Exonerees Give the Public Advice on Being Locked Down: You Have No Idea

by Dale Chappell

Now the whole country is incarcerated,” Theophalis “Binky Bilal” Wilson said after being released in January 2020, exonerated after 28 years wrongfully in prison, only to find himself locked in at home. “This is a microcosm of what a person experiences when he is incarcerated,” he said. “This is nothing.”

He’s of course talking about the “lock down” of the entire world due to the coronavirus pandemic that has city streets deserted across the nation. Wilson was exonerated this year after it was found that the prosecutor used false evidence, false accusations, and committed “official misconduct” in securing a murder conviction against Wilson when he was 17.

While the stay-at-home orders have prevented him from restarting his life going to work for a law firm helping others still stuck in prison, he’s happy to give advice to those who have never experienced being locked down. He’s also hopeful the “incarceration” of the country will create some empathy for prisoners stuck in prisons being ravaged by the coronavirus.

Another recent exoneree, Mark Whitaker, also has some advice to the newbies on “lock down” at home: “You have to be creative. You better have something to do with you ...